Tanzina Vega: Hi, everybody. I'm Tanzina Vega, and this is The Takeaway. When Congress passed the CARES Act in the spring, it provided relief checks of up to $1,200 for millions of Americans, and even more for those with kids. It was, by some accounts, a big success, but millions of very low-income families, those who normally don't file taxes, got nothing. In September, the IRS sent out letters, urging people in this category to register for their missing relief funds online by November 21st, but many Americans in need may have missed that announcement, leaving them without much needed funds.
Heather Long is an economics correspondent at The Washington Post. Heather, welcome back to the show.
Heather Long: Thanks. Good to be here.
Tanzina: Who are the people that didn't get this extra stimulus?
Heather: These are two broad categories, really, really low-income people, so generally people not filing income taxes, which means they're earning less than about 12,000 a year for an individual, or 24,000 a year for couples. These people really need the money.
The other group that did not get stimulus money was actually prison inmates, people serving jail time. That was actually remedied by the courts, and the IRS is in the process of getting those checks out. They hope to have them all out by the end of November.
As you said, the estimates range from 9 to 12 million, who-- There was a mad rush to try to get these people registered, try to get their information to the IRS, but if they're not filing tax returns, the IRS didn't have it.
Tanzina: This weekend was the deadline for a lot of those Americans, but how did the efforts for folks to register go? I can't imagine that there are people who just never got that message.
Heather: Exactly. One of the big problems is, this goes back to what we're seeing a lot during this pandemic. This was a process that was really geared towards people having a computer and internet access, and in particular people having a laptop or desktop. In order to use this IRS portal, it was called a non-filer portal, so people who don't file income taxes, they created a special form online. It was supposed to be simpler than filing a tax return, but you could not do it on your mobile phone.
Trying to reach this population, again, that doesn't have a lot of money, that typically doesn't have internet access, what we were seeing is, even homeless shelters were begging for fun so that they could buy laptops to help people to register, who are entitled to this money. You had to go through this process on a laptop in order to get it.
Tanzina: For those who missed the deadline, which was, as we said, November 21st, do they have any recourse now, if they're listening to this segment, for example, to get any of that money?
Heather: They do, it's not super satisfying. They will not get it this year. What they can do is, early next year, between basically February and April 15th, they could file a 2020 tax return. In this case, they will have to file an actual tax return in order to get this money. It should be sent out as either a check or direct deposit, depending upon how they enter their information. Obviously, that's a long time to wait for people who are cash drought.
Tanzina: Where are we on the possibility of another relief bill like The CARES Act? Congress seems to have been in a deadlock over this for quite some time. Are we close?
Heather: No. It's mind-boggling to say that, that we're sitting here, and every indicator is telling us that things are getting worse. We've all still seen these long lines at food banks. We know from the surveys that the census is doing, that over 10 million people every week are food insecure. We know that many millions of people are still missing their rent payments and utility payments.
We know that the hurt and the pain is there. We know that over 20 million Americans are still on unemployment aid, so they can't find a job, and yet Congress just can't seem to get its act together.
The most promising sign that's happened in the last few days is, we're starting to hear a little bit from the incoming Biden administration, that they're starting to put the word out, that they would like to see some sort of deal. They're sort of, some money is better than no money is what they're starting to tell Democrats and trying to urge them to take whatever Republicans will offer. If Republicans will only offer 500 billion or 1 trillion, take it. That's better than nothing.
Tanzina: Why haven't they taken it so far? Because I think that's the frustrating part. I think it's easy, depending on where someone falls politically to point fingers, but this does feel like it's unnecessary gridlock to be going through in this moment. Why haven't they just taken the deal, the Democrats?
Heather: A similar deal was on the table in August. Speaker Pelosi, on the Democratic side, rejected it. I think people on the Democratic side really thought that they were going to win the election, and there was a possibility they were going to win the Senate, and so they can get a much bigger package. They thought, if they waited that they could get the full package over $2 trillion worth of aid.
In particular, Republicans are really hesitant to give any money to states and localities, so cities, municipalities, and there's a lot of belief on the Democratic side that that was needed, that there was a lot of belief on the Democratic side that more money was needed for testing and tracing the Republicans were willing to do. I think the hearts maybe were in the right place, but it turned out not to be a pragmatic move.
Tanzina: What do we know? You mentioned President-elect Joe Biden, potentially, putting some pressure on to get this done. What plans does he have come inauguration date if it doesn't get done by then?
Heather: Yes, that's a great question. I will say the Biden team is working actively on executive orders, so things they can do without Congress. At the top of that list, and boy, is it needed, is to extend the eviction moratorium so people would not be able to be evicted from their homes. Those feel like small potatoes, but certainly it would be a step in the right direction.
Tanzina: Outside of a formal stimulus bill, are there any other federal programs that are stepping in to address some of this housing and security and food insecurity?
Heather: A little bit. Obviously, we have this program SNAP, sometimes known as Food Stamps. We have seen that go up several million, and the housing aid was another area that Democrats were holding out, hoping they could get more money for in a relief package, and so far, Republicans really haven't wanted to go there. I think the housing aid has been an area that's been really scary the last few weeks. I'm one of the people in many who've been writing about this real fear that in January you could see some sort of mass eviction crisis early next year.
Similar to what we saw in the great recession with those foreclosures, where I've felt like numerous homes on a block were being foreclosed on. We could easily see that with evictions of renters who have even less money and people I've written about who- their landlord has still gone through with an eviction process, like just putting a padlock on the door. You can't even get in anymore, even if they're not supposed to do that right now. Where does this person turn to? Right now, in the middle of a pandemic, it's very hard to find housing. They end up maybe renting a room somewhere or couch-surfing.
Tanzina: Heather Long is an economics correspondent for The Washington Post. Heather, thanks so much for your reporting.
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